Transforming the Home Office via UK Visa Applications

Deliver a new improved UK global Visa service as a demonstration of digital team capability, agile methodology, and user-centred service design.

The Home Office is one of the UK Government’s main departments of state with a mission to keep our citizens safe and secure. In 2013 the Government Digital Service began working with departments to deliver 25 examples of high-quality, high-volume, citizen-facing digital transactions. We were engaged to establish and oversee the Home Office exemplars to use these as a means of driving change in the organisation to digital by default services and ways of working.

We started the Visa exemplar with a huge challenge: 7 years of failing IT projects had spent over £500M with nothing usable. The number of Visa types was unknown but well over 100. The existing technology and its suppliers were incapable of supporting a service that would meet the new service standards. And there was no significant civil service understanding in the technology tools they had or needed.

We:

  1. rapidly built a strong digital delivery team of experts
  2. mpowered and mentored a small team of civil servants into key roles
  3. delivered a Discovery that found an innovative approach to solving the issues of business complexity
  4. delivered an Alpha prototype that impressed users and provided low cost business flexibility
  5. made the case for GOV.UK to be multilingual to allow content to be indexed by foreign language search engines
  6. rolled out China Visit Visas to acclaim in a little over a year from start
  7. progressively expanded to other languages and visa types
  8. passed the Live UK Government Service Standard in just over 2 years from starting

This work won the Best Public Sector Project of the Year in the Computer Weekly European User Awards 2015. The service is now available in over 200 countries around the world in 19 languages, handles nearly 3 million transactions and £1B of revenues annually, and not surprisingly has been lauded by senior members of UK Government.

Importantly this work started the Home Office transformation that we continued to drive helping to create a new digital division of 450 people in four years. This included establishing a team in Sheffield from a specific initiative we proposed and championed. Many of the civil servants involved in the original Visa exemplar project have gone on to hold senior digital positions in government and continue the good work of putting users-first.